CTIA Fall 2006
The Pearl, AKA the BlackBerry 8100, is RIM's first real multimedia device for consumers.
They made their first consumer play with the 7100 series, introduced almost exactly two years ago. The 7100 series introduced the SureType text keypad, and RIM's first real phone-like form factor. It lacked a camera however, and RIM has also fallen behind other manufacturers in the introduction of music players and memory card slots, and hasn't really kept up with thin trend started by Motorola's RAZR.
The Pearl catches up with all of those trends, and even takes a slight lead with innovations like a trackball.
Getting some hands-on time with the Pearl, two things immediately jumped out: the finish and the size.
The glossy black finish has an unfortunate knack for showing fingerprints and face grease. (We spent over a minute cleaning it just to take these photos.)
RIM usually offers slightly different styling for each major carrier, so hopefully non-T-Mobile versions won't have the same glossy finish. The Cingular version is due in roughly six weeks. Although we're not sure exactly what it will look like, we do know it will add PTT to the feature mix.
Fortunately, the fingerprint issue is more than offset by the impressive light weight and small size. It's the first BlackBerry that can fit comfortably in a pocket almost as well as a RAZR. It's small enough to make the 7100 series BlackBerrys look like bricks.
The interface has also been updated, although not as much as I had hoped. It's still distinctively BlackBerry-like, and most of it is still clearly designed around up-and-down list scrolling. Unfortunately, RIM did not take advantage of the new four-way trackball to implement intuitive four-way navigation like most other phones.
Speaking of the trackball, it's surprisingly small. It spins freely and easily, although it feels a bit tricky to press down (to select things.)
Voice dialing in the Pearl is another welcome (and long-overdue) addition to the BlackBerry lineup.
To make the Pearl so small and light, RIM had to skimp a bit on a battery. To make up for the relatively short battery life, RIM added external battery contacts on the back that enable the Pearl to work with a dock-like desktop charger. The optional desk charger can charge the Pearl and a spare battery at the same time, giving road warriors some extra power options.